So, beloveds. My divorce is official, and I’m picking up the pieces in Tel Aviv, surrounded by family and friends, who have been such a source of support and comfort. Remember that apartment I told you about earlier this summer, with the impossible skyline? That’s where I’m living at the moment, and I don’t think I will ever tire of the view- it’s like having a private screening to the magic of this world, and people, it’s nonstop. I feel very, very blessed. I also feel very, very blessed to have you, dear readers, to share my journey with. Thank you for being here.
When I moved to New York with Yaki close to two years ago, I never would have imagined that I would return to Israel, so soon, and alone. And I never would have imagined finding myself in Tel Aviv, and liking it as much as I do. This city? It has my heart.
At sunset, I walk down twisting streets towards the beach, and walk along the shoreline, the warm, foamy water twirling around my feet. The sun sets rapidly now, trailing quickly through the sky, pulling oranges, reds, pinks as it dips. A sailboat with big puffy sails drifts slowly past; little girls in pink bathing suits dig at the sand with a yellow plastic shovel; Jaffa juts out with its palm trees and greenery, the edge of the city crawling into the ocean. The water laps softly at the sand, and the ocean looks like a huge, warm, temperate bath.
As I walk the city, I’m so busy looking around, looking up, that, the other day, I cut my toe on a sharp rock. I wonder how long it will be before tall buildings of glass and steel replace all of these ancient little homes with blue shutters and intricate entrances; I wonder how long it will be before I no longer look around the city with eyes peeled back in wonder. How long before I get chained into routine, like the crowds making their way through the streets with expressionless faces, phones at their ears, eyes on their watches. I walk the streets in my flip flops, and when I get home, I wash the city from my feet, black dirt seeping down the sides of the big white tub.
One of the things that’s so lovely about Israel is the produce. (Also: it’s November, and I’m still in sandals and summer dresses). When I lived in New York, I was trying to eat as locally and in-season as possible (typical), and for a long stretch of the year, it got dreary. Here there’s an abundance of fruits and vegetables year-round. At the market, I picked up some pomegranates and fresh bunches of cilantro, mint and dill, and made an herb-flecked quinoa salad with pomegranates and fennel cooked in cumin, using a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi. My sister-in-law was visiting with my nephews, so I made a double batch for her to take home. She texted me the next morning saying it was the best quinoa salad EVER. People, Ottolenghi knows his stuff, and his herb-heavy, bright, seasonal dishes are the food I dream of. I can’t wait to receive his latest cookbook, Jerusalem. (The downside of not living in the US? No Amazon. So. Hard).
Reading: When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron.
Listening: Adele (obviously).
So. I wrote this post a week ago, and this is where it ended. Bright, right? Full of optimism and excitement paired with a pomegranate-studded salad that just begs to be eaten opposite an endless horizon of blue. I put it aside and went to Jerusalem for a few days.
In the past 4 days, Gaza launched 170 rockets into Israel. I don’t want to make this about politics. But, guys? Sirens sounded in Tel Aviv, bringing the number of civilians in the line of fire to 3.5 million, including the residents of Israel’s south, already well-seasoned in missiles and air-raid sirens, and fear. This feeling I had about Tel Aviv, all sun-kissed and carefree? Way to pull the rug out from under my feet. I was in Jerusalem when the first siren sounded in Tel Aviv, so I stayed for the weekend, thinking it was safer. A siren sounded in Jerusalem. Do you know what the sirens sound like? They come at you loudly, and jolt you, penetrating your neck and spiraling into your throat. Your body tenses up for a moment, freezes, and then you call out for the others, and make a run for it- to the nearest shelter, or safe room, or if you’re outdoors, you lie on the floor with your hands above your head. It’s bad, people. So, so bad. But the worst is the quiet. The days stretch out endlessly, and it’s quiet and people are going about as usual, talking and working and eating and watching tv. And you: you hear the siren, and your body freezes, and then, just as you’re about to run, the sound fades and you realize it was an ambulance, or noise from the tv, or the engine of a motorcycle starting up in the distance. You look around- did they notice the way you jumped up, right out of your skin? The way the blood drained from your face? The way that, right now, you’re trying to ease seamlessly back into a conversation you were never really fully a part of, that second part of you always on alert, always monitoring, always listening, always there, hovering above you.
Quinoa, Fennel, and Pomegranate Salad
from this recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium fennel bulbs, cut lengthwise into 1/4″-thick slices
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 serrano chile, seeded and chopped (optional)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup feta, cubed (optional)
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds (from 1/2 small pomegranate)
In a large skillet over medium heat, warm 1/4 cup olive oil. Add fennel, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until fennel is just tender and lightly golden, about 10–12 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, cumin, and sugar, and cook for an additional minute. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring the quinoa and 3 cups of water to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until quinoa is cooked, about 10 minutes. Drain, and return the quinoa to the pan. Cover, and let sit for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork, and transfer to a large bowl.
Next, segment the lemon: using a small sharp knife, cut all peel and white pith from lemon. Cut between the membranes to release the segments. Roughly chop the segments, and add them, along with any juices, and the remaining 1 Tbsp. oil to the quinoa, and stir. Add chile, herbs, feta, and fennel mixture, and toss gently to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer salad to a platter, and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.
Can be made one day ahead (keep fennel mixture separate).